Luis Suárez

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Completing the trident: Why they’ll line up for Barca

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The 2008-09 season was the year Lionel Messi’s numbers went from promising to gaudy, the Argentine wizard overtaking Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry for the team lead in goals.

Since then, he’s annually summited Barca’s goals table aside from Luis Suarez’s almost absurd 59-goal season in 2015-16. You have to say almost absurd because Messi has thrown up 50 or more goals five times, including an actually absurd 73.

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Here are Barca’s leading goal scorers the last nine seasons:

2008-09: Messi-38, Eto’o-36, Henry-26, Xavi-10, Bojan-10
2009-10: Messi-47, Pedro-23, Ibrahimovic-21, Bojan-12
2010-11: Messi-53, Villa-23, Pedro-22, Iniesta-9
2011-12: Messi-73, Fabregas-15, Sanchez-15, Xavi-14, Pedro-13
2012-13: Messi-60, Villa-16, Fabregas-13, Sanchez-8
2013-14: Messi-41, Alexis-19, Pedro-17, Fabregas-13, Neymar-12
2014-15: Messi-58, Neymar-39, Suarez-25, Pedro-11
2015-16: Suarez-59, Messi-41, Neymar-31, Rakitic-9
2016-17: Messi-54, Suarez-37, Neymar-20, Turan-13, Rakitic-9

So of the 30 top-scoring seasons in soccer history, Messi has three and Suarez has one. Cristiano Ronaldo has done it thrice as well, wo players have done it in Wales’ top flight, one in Estonia, and Mario Jardel scored 55 for Sporting CP in 2001-02. That’s it for this century.

All of that is a loooooong preamble to say the following: with Messi and Suarez still very much near the top of their games, the remaining tip of the trident is the most attractive spot in soccer.

So for those who might see how Liverpool’s started and wonder, “Maybe Coutinho is having second thoughts!”, or take a look at reports that Riyad Mahrez is fine as a “Plan B” despite being a former Premier League Player of the Year, and wonder why, here’s why: Any player who gets the chance to sit on the other side of that duo is going to bury at least 20 goals and have an experience few other players have had.

Even if the purported acrimony between Barca’s hierarchy and players is real, Messi isn’t leaving and Barca remains Barca.

Top Billing in South America: Argentina vs. Uruguay

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Lionel Messi is back for Argentina. And Luis Suarez is expected to return for Uruguay.

The two Barcelona teammates should be the focus on Thursday in South America’s most high-profile World Cup qualifier.

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With four rounds of qualifying remaining, Brazil has already advanced to Russia and leads the group with 33 points. The five-time World Cup winners are followed by Colombia (24), Uruguay (23), Chile (23), Argentina (22) and Ecuador (20). Peru and Paraguay have 18 points, and little chance to advance. Bolivia and Venezuela have been eliminated.

In addition to Brazil, three more teams will claim the remaining automatic berths, and one more South American team could also reach Russia in a playoff.

A look at the key games:

URUGUAY-ARGENTINA

Messi is back from a one-game ban for insulting a match official. It was originally four matches, but the Argentine soccer association appealed successfully.

That’s good news for coach Jorge Sampaoli, who will be on the bench for his first official game in charge. Without Messi, Argentina lost to Bolivia 2-0 in its last qualifier in March.

Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez also needs Suarez. He has a right-knee injury, which Tabarez said will be evaluated in the run-up to the match.

With or without Suarez, Tabarez knows “it will be a very, very difficult match.”

Sampaoli replaced Edgardo Bauza in early June and has coached friendly wins over Brazil and Singapore. Sampaoli has left Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain out of the side, going instead with Paulo Dybala, who is seen as Messi’s heir on the national team.

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Tabarez is remaking the Uruguay side, which has been about the same since finishing fourth in the 2010 World Cup and the 2011 Copa America. New faces include Federico Valverde, Mauricio Lemos and Gaston Pereiro.

“It’s not just another game coming up,” Uruguay defender Diego Godin said. “It’s a classic, and we know who we’re playing.”

VENEZUELA-COLOMBIA

Colombia attacking midfielder James Rodriguez is out with a right thigh injury. His new club, Bayern Munich, has allowed him to travel, under the condition that he doesn’t play. He could be available for the Sept. 5 qualifier against Brazil.

The match takes place in San Cristobal, Venezuela, in the midst of the South American country’s deepening social and economic crisis.

Argentina-born coach Jose Pekerman should be able to get by without Rodriguez. Venezuela has only six points from 14 matches.

“Venezuela playing Colombia is always played as if your life depends on it,” Colombia winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado said.

Colombia will rely on Radamel Falcao, who has scored seven goals for French club Monaco in only four games.

BRAZIL-ECUADOR

Brazil has advanced, winning eight straight qualifiers under coach Tite.

Tite will have Neymar, fresh off his record-breaking transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. The player most watched will be winger Philippe Coutinho, who has yet to play a minute with Liverpool. The English club says Coutinho has been out with a back injury. Meanwhile, Coutinho has been linked in a move to Barcelona to replace Neymar.

Ecuador needs a victory in the match in the southern city of Porto Alegre to stay in the race.

“It’s a tough challenge,” Ecuador coach Gustavo Quinteros said. “But Ecuador has shown when it plays well, it can beat anybody.”

CHILE-PARAGUAY

Chile’s hopes in Santiago against Paraguay probably ride with Alexis Sanchez, who played his first minutes of the season in Arsenal’s 4-0 loss to Liverpool. Sanchez missed the first two matches with an injury.

PERU-BOLIVIA

Peru and Bolivia play the other match with neither team going anywhere. Peru will be without captain and top scorer Paolo Guerrero, who is suspended. He is eligible for the next match against Ecuador.

Zuniga reported from New York.

Barcelona’s Suarez out for a month with knee injury

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The hits just keep on coming for Barcelona, the tiny, scrappy Spanish club that just can’t catch a break.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

In the last two weeks alone, the Blaugrana have lost Neymar, spent $47 million to sign Paulinho, failed to land a single one of their reported major transfer targets, and been embarrassed by Real Madrid (of all clubs) in the Supercopa de España.

One of the few remaining saving graces was the Lionel Messi-Luis Suarez partnership — two-thirds of the historically great MSN trio — which remained in place following Neymar’s departure. That won’t be the case for the next month, at least, after Suarez suffered an injury to his right knee in the second leg of the Supercopa on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

The Uruguayan Football Association announced on Thursday that Suarez will be sidelined for four to five weeks and miss for a pair of hugely important World Cup qualifiers against Argentina (Aug. 31) and Paraguay (Sept. 5). Uruguay currently sit third in CONMEBOL’s marathon 10-team qualification round, one point clear of Chile in fourth (automatic qualification) and Argentina in fifth (qualification playoff, versus Oceania).

As for Barca, Suarez’s injury means not only will the club be without arguably the world’s best striker of the last five years, but given the desperate situation they now find themselves in, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund should be expected to demand an additional $5 million or $10 million to land Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.

WATCH: Neymar dizzies Valencia, gets Suarez pick to score vs. Man Utd

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All three parts of the MSN trident helped Barcelona produce an International Champions Cup goal against Manchester United on Wednesday, though not in the most traditional of fashions.

Lionel Messi’s through ball was off target, and Neymar rushed onto it before spinning toward goal. Luis Suarez literally shoved Chris Smalling out of contention to stop the Brazilian, and Neymar did the rest with a finish past David De Gea.

[ REPORT: Barca confident of Coutinho deal ]

Say it with me, “It’s preseason for the officials, too, you guys.”

Neymar’s goal has given Barcelona a 1-0 lead over United, and the match is at halftime. Obviously, he hasn’t been sent to Paris Saint-Germain.

Video: Messi, Suarez show off juggling skills in a pool

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Is there anything Lionel Messi doesn’t do right?

[ MORE: USMNT underwhelms in Gold Cup opener ]

The Barcelona star is currently on vacation as part of his honeymoon after marrying his longtime girlfriend, but Messi took some time off to show off his juggling skills with teammate Luis Suarez.